Backstrokin’ Basics

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First things first:  Is this not the cutest picture ever? 


Furhusband and furwife, sitting in the sunny spot together.


I hit the pool up during lunch with one goal in mind: DO THE BACKSTROKE!

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The wonderful reader comments on this post (Different Strokes) about how to effectively do a backstroke were so helpful.  I’m really trying to learn a new stroke because I think it will be especially helpful during triathlon season.  The top three tips that I incorporated today were:


  • When your arm is coming out of the water, thumb up.  Twist your arm on the extension so your hand enters the water pinkie-side down.  I practiced this in my living room first.
  • Keep your arm close to your head when it re-enters the water.
  • Do a few laps hugging a kickboard to your chest so you can get used to kicking on your back without running into the buoys.

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I did SO much better today just by implementing those three tips!  I did 1,000 yards, some freestyle and some backstroke.   It’s hard to do the backstroke if you’re not used to it.  My arms are tired.


While I was backstrokin’, I thought about how one of the things that really held me back from trying other strokes was my fear of looking stupid.  I’ve written about workout embarrassment before (there’s a whole section about it in the upcoming Healthy Tipping Point book!)… it’s a huge hurdle to trying new things.  I think workout embarrassment comes in two forms:  fear of how you look physically and fear of looking incompetent.  I definitely avoided the backstroke for so long because I was so afraid of running into the buoys because I couldn’t backstroke in a straight line.  This is compounded because the people at my pool are serious swimmers – lots of high school and college teams or Ironmen. I feel very novice compared to everyone else.


But when I was swimming today (and running into the buoys), I realized two things: 1) I don’t really give a crap if people laugh at me if I run into the buoys.  It is kind of funny, and it happens to everyone who’s learning a new stroke.  2) Most of the swimmers are so engrossed in their workouts that they don’t notice me slamming into the buoys.  Maybe I’m just providing entertainment for the lifeguards!

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Pre-workout snack was rice cakes and PB:


And afterwards, a huge salad with sunflower seeds, goat cheese, carrots, onions, and raisins.  Yum.  Plus a big of BBQ chips.


Annnnd now it’s snack time again.


I bought the Husband a random present.  Any guesses what it is?  Heh.


(Other Christmas gifts are actually anniversary gifts – it’s our wedding anniversary next week!)


Do you suffer from workout embarrassment?  How do you deal with it?



  • Ashley December 30, 2011, 4:21 pm

    I often have a fear of jogging/running outside for fear of what I may look like because I am essentially starting over as a runner. I try to go in the earlier morning time when I feel less people may be out and about, but most of the time I just don’t care. 🙂 I try to think of that one saying, something to the effect of no matter how slow I am going, I am lapping those sitting in a car. 🙂

    • Caitlin December 31, 2011, 8:48 am

      That’s why you need to put on your hardcore face 🙂 Haha. Even when I’m walking, I look very serious.

  • Michelle December 30, 2011, 4:25 pm

    I have total workout fear. When I was marathon training over the summer I would be so embarrassed to walk on the popular running tra by my house. Then I realized that the only person who cared I I walked …. Was me.

  • Ashley @ This Is The Place December 30, 2011, 4:25 pm

    Every time I have workout embarrassment, I just remember the first time I went kickboxing. I went with my mom and neither of us were coordinated enough to do more than like 1% of it! The entire room was covered in mirrors, so we could see our awkwardness from every angle. I don’t think we’ve ever laughed that hard! We were AWFUL!

    Somehow, for some reason, we went back. I think it was the nice instructor. He tried so hard to help us. After a couple of weeks, we were the super-serious looking people in the front of the room. If I can manage to not die of embarrassment…and get the courage to GO BACK, then I can do anything.

  • Devon December 30, 2011, 4:26 pm

    I’m ’embarrassed’ right now. I know it sounds silly but, i just joined a new, smaller gym that is closer to my house and i’m scared to death to go in and lift weights in front of the guys. I’m guessing the only way i’m gonna get over it is suffering through it until i’m comfortable.

  • Sarah December 30, 2011, 4:27 pm

    Embarrassment is exactly why I have not tried a group fitness class. I do not learn choreography quickly.

  • Christine @ BookishlyB December 30, 2011, 4:27 pm

    Furhusband and furwife? Hahahaha! Sometimes I call my dogs boyfriend and girlfriend, sometimes best friends, and sometimes brother and sister. I’m sure they have a complex.

    I put off going to yoga for years because I feared humiliation, and then a friend invited me. It was love at first class- no one was judgmental at all. The other students were concentrating on their own practices and the teacher genuinely wanted to help. Now I go every week! You just have to make that first leap and realize it’s not that bad!

    • Caitlin December 30, 2011, 4:31 pm

      I had a marriage ceremony in the living room one day 🙂 They are husband and wife!

      • Michelle December 30, 2011, 4:34 pm

        Thats hilarious! Are there pictures?

        • Caitlin December 30, 2011, 4:35 pm

          Hahah no, I wish there were. It was very short. Maggie, do you take this dog to be your lawfully wedding furhusband? You may now lick each others faces.

      • Jen December 31, 2011, 1:54 am

        HAHAHAHA….now, THAT is awesome!!! 🙂

        • Jen December 31, 2011, 1:57 am

          Also, knowing that, I am SO glad that James gets to sleep in the same room as his wife! 🙂

    • Laura December 30, 2011, 4:32 pm

      I do the same thing! I know that my dogs are best friends, but I don’t know if they are brother and sister or boyfriend and girlfriend.

  • Amanda December 30, 2011, 4:30 pm

    I used to get workout embarrassment (and sometimes still do) and I let it keep me from trying to new classes at my gym up until this past year. I tend to be a perfectionist and HATE when I’m not good at something, but then I realized: no one cares. Seriously, most people are too busy with their own workouts to even notice. And even if they do, it’s often a good way to make some new friends and bond over a new exercise, etc. Everyone is a novice at some point!

  • Michelle December 30, 2011, 4:32 pm

    I really like to have someone else who already knows the ropes show me around or how to do something etc. I dont feel it so much when out running or in the pool or even in a class, but i DEF feel it in the gym, even if its a gym Ive been to before. I tend to get on a cardio machine and then try to surreptitiously watch the other people on machines etc to figure out how things work so I can walk up to it like I know what Im doing. And in general, I am NOT a self conscious person but dude the gym can be super intimidating!

    Back stoke thought – be careful with your shoulders. Pros reach waaay the hell out there with their reach – you can too – but your shoulders might hate you for it! In freestyle and breast stroke your shoulders can warm up as you go – in back stroke, Ive found I need to make sure I have really warmed up and stretched my shoulders first otherwise they are tweaked by the end. 🙁

    Practicing back stroke alone is great b/c you can bump off the bouys so that if you have to circle swim you will be more comfortable with it even if other people are in your lane.

    Congrats on a successful foray in to a new stroke!! I’ve never been pregnant before, but I would think side stroke might be a good one to learn next! Its great for triathlons if you need to “take a break” but want to keep forward progress.

    • Caitlin December 30, 2011, 4:34 pm

      Oh good tip. I definitely warmed up with 250 yards of freestyle first. I’m trying to SLOWLY introduce the backstroke so I don’t complete eff something up. Side stroke is next! Or the breast.

  • Jess December 30, 2011, 4:35 pm

    I had a moment this week. One of my goals for 2012 is to complete my first tri – an awesome friend offered to lend me her old road bike. We went to the bike store to have it fitted, and I had some trouble getting in and out of the clips (while the bike was in the trainer), because I’m fairly new at it still. The guy who worked there made some remark about how these must be new shoes, too. Cringed for a moment, but then decided that I’m not going to care. The whole tri experience is going to be like this, so I need to learn to laugh at myself now!

    • Caitlin December 30, 2011, 4:36 pm

      If it makes you feel better, cyclists are notoriously bad for that kind of stuff… especially at bike shops. I don’t know what it is but I’ve encountered a LOT of ‘tude at shops (but some nice people, too).

      My advice for clipping it? Practice in a doorway at home first… that way you can catch yourself if you start to fall 🙂

    • eatingRD December 30, 2011, 4:59 pm

      I agree lots of ‘tude with those guys and gals, and a ton of really nice cyclists too. Always remember to consciously ‘think’ about having to clip out when you are coming to a stop. When I started I’ve fallen over several times when I completely forgot I was clipped in! lol Pretty soon it becomes second nature 🙂 Have fun!

  • Johanna B December 30, 2011, 4:35 pm

    Great post! I can’t begin to tell you the things I have avoided in my life for fear of embarrassment

  • Kim December 30, 2011, 4:39 pm

    Way to look at it – us crazy, sideways swimmers are really thinking “safety first” by keeping the lifeguards awake by watching our sideways antics.

  • Justine December 30, 2011, 4:42 pm

    As a former competitive swimmer and now swim laps occasionally, I’ll tell you that we (or most of the swimming population that I know) don’t really look or care what other folks are doing. We really only care if you get in our way or don’t understand the concept of splitting the lane or circle swimming 🙂

    Swimming is a very solitary sport and usually swimmers are in their own little world, getting p.o.’d when other people interrupt it.

    On the other hand, yes, you may be providing entertainment for the lifeguards, lol 🙂 I was a lifeguard at a few pools and it’s single-handedly the most boring job ever for lap swimming and it’s pretty hard to stay awake. But hey, you are keeping them awake! I ended up lifeguarding at a water park which was much better because there were many people who didn’t connect that deep water at the end of a slide and an inability to swim don’t mesh. Lots of saves to keep me awake!

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife December 30, 2011, 4:44 pm

    SO true—embarrassment is how you get somewhere–learn from it and move on 🙂 Good for you for tackling it!!

    P.s. most of us swimmers could care less about others’ workouts (sounds vain, but its true! hah)

  • Alex December 30, 2011, 4:45 pm

    Saw your postings on “shit vegans say” the other day – when I came across this video, I thought of you…it’s called “shit yogis say.” I loved it.

    • Caitlin December 31, 2011, 8:49 am

      I LOVE IT.

  • eatingRD December 30, 2011, 4:54 pm

    I do! I feel like such a goof when I’m cycling with the more experienced and faster riders out there, especially guys. It’s very intimidating, but I’ve realized I just have to get out there to get dropped. I’ve learned I don’t get faster riding by myself!

  • Lexi @ A Spoonful of Sunshine December 30, 2011, 5:06 pm

    I get easily embarrassed too, especially since I can be really competitive while not necessarily showing it!

  • Kate December 30, 2011, 5:36 pm

    One of the main reasons I never swim is because I feel really intimidated! I know people probably couldn’t care what I was doing, but since I’m not a great swimmer I probably look really weird.

  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) December 30, 2011, 5:51 pm

    I feel like I’m the most awkward exerciser out there. I try not to focus on my odd behavior and just try to be me. Heck, I fell when we were in NY a few weeks ago. I thought I would have been embarrassed, but I got right up and moved on. I kinda like this being me thing.

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin December 30, 2011, 6:44 pm

    I get embarrassed when I try out new strength training moves at the gym because I’m never sure if I’m doing them properly!

  • Anna December 30, 2011, 7:09 pm

    I totally can suffer from workout embarrassment! I NEVER used to swim because I felt like the lifeguards were all making fun of me. Even now, I feel a little uncomfortable if I know I’m the only one in the pool. When I try new things at the gym and feel silly, I can understand why some newbies never make it to the gym in the first place…it can be intimidating! But your right, no one is watching you, they are too busy being silly themselves!

  • Rosie December 30, 2011, 7:19 pm

    I love this post and the comments!! I hate making a fool of myself… I am always panicked that with new strokes I will run out of energy half-way across the pool and have to flounder around changing back to the only one I’m comfortable with — breast-stroke 🙁

  • Liz December 30, 2011, 7:56 pm

    I’m a swimmer, and I can honestly say I have NEVER noticed anyone else’s swim mechanics unless they are sharing a lane with me. You get so involved in your own swim, paying attention to pacing, counting strokes, breathing, etc that the only time I notice other swimmers is it they are about to slam into me! Also, swimming doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but the more to get our there are work on it, the easier it becomes. Happy swimming 🙂

    • Caitlin December 31, 2011, 8:49 am

      This makes me feel better 🙂

  • Anna Crouch December 30, 2011, 7:59 pm

    Oh my gosh, yes!!!!! I’ve totally done this before. Actually, I still currently do. I get petrified to enter the free weights area and workout because I’m afraid I’ll look extremely ameuture (which I am) and look like I have no idea what I’m doing (which sometimes I don’t) lol. I just need to suck it up and do it! Who cares what the guys think–I’m not trying to impress them anyhow!

  • Jenna December 30, 2011, 8:18 pm

    I bought a ten session pass to hot yoga in January, of 2008.
    I have nine sessions left. I felt so embarrassed, un-coordinated, un-lululemoned, and out of sorts. Last week, I contacted them, and they assured me that they are still valid.
    Resolution for 2012 – is to use the other nine!

  • Allison December 30, 2011, 8:29 pm

    I totally felt some workout embarrassment when I tried Zumba- gahhh, it was even more awful that I got to watch it all on the mirrors in front of the class [bahaha]!

  • katie @ KatieDid December 30, 2011, 9:33 pm

    I have a little angst going to my new crossfit gym, but luckily everyone is super supportive and friendly to one another. I also realize that everyone is WAY more into their own workouts than anyone else’s around them. I try to be open and friendly which helps some of the ’embarassement’.

  • Lindsay Loves Veggies December 30, 2011, 10:03 pm

    Congrats on getting out there and trying it out! I’ve always found that it’s easiest to get over embarassment if you just laugh at yourself. Then people aren’t laughing AT you, they’re laughing WITH you! 🙂

  • Khushboo December 30, 2011, 11:37 pm

    I initially did get slightly embarrassed during the start of my workout ‘career’. Truth be told I never suffer it anymore…each to their own and if im seeing the results, either mentally or physically, then who’s having the last laugh!!

  • Avery December 31, 2011, 12:23 am

    Whenever I feel stupid at the gym I always remind myself how little I actually pay attention to the people around me, so I figure they’re probably not paying attention to me either. Also, as a lifeguard for 3 years, trust me when I say that 98% percent of swimmers doing backstroke run into the lane lines. I wouldn’t think twice seeing it!

    • Caitlin December 31, 2011, 8:51 am

      Good way to think about it!

  • Jen December 31, 2011, 12:24 am

    I exercise at home (er, well, I did until I fell off the exercise wagon and got run over by it forever ago…but my NY ressie is to get back on the wagon!) because my face gets REALLY RED when I do cardio. I get so red in the face that when hubby and I used the resort gym on our honeymoon, I had three people come over to ask if I was okay! I don’t know why it happens…I don’t feel like I’m breathing any harder than most people would when they exercise, and my heart rate is within a normal range; I think being fair skinned and of Irish descent has something to do with it (that’s what my Google searches tell me, anyway) but I get red faced enough that I don’t want to exercise in public because it just makes me self conscious and not want to exercise as hard. At least at home I can give it 100% and know that nobody is next to me wondering if I’m having a heart attack or something, lol. We have a treadmill and an elliptical at home, and I have lots of cardio DVDs and strength training DVDs so I can still get in a well rounded workout…once I get back on that wagon I mentioned earlier 😉

  • Jen December 31, 2011, 1:30 am

    I LOVE the picture of your little “fur spouses” and also your attitude about trying new things in public! I want to be brave like you! The truth is…even if someone gets a little chuckle when you run into buoys, etc. (hey, wouldn’t we all?), it’s not as if they are thinking anything bad about YOU! I would expect that that chuckle is paired with some real, sincere admiration! 🙂

    Happy New Year AND Happy Anniversary!!!

    • Caitlin December 31, 2011, 8:51 am

      Happy new year to you too!!

  • Tally December 31, 2011, 1:42 am

    Regarding workout embarrassment and trying new things, I recently started bicycling (thanks to you, Caitlin, of course). Maybe you could do a post on bicycling for beginners? Specifically, I need help on:
    1) How to sit on a bicycle without your butt hurting.
    2) How to hold the handlebars without your hand falling asleep. (Seriously, my left hand is still numb an hour later.)
    3) How to get on and off sidewalks.
    4) Any tips for uphill cycling?
    Thanks 🙂

  • Kristen @ livinlifeinlouie December 31, 2011, 2:34 am

    dont worry! everyone runs into the buoys! even people who have been swimming their whole lives (we are just good at making it look like we meant to haha)

  • Jrm December 31, 2011, 3:29 am

    I love helping people with swim technique. To help guide yourself on your back, if swimming indoors, use the ceiling tiles or lights to guide you. As your technique improves youll pull equally with both arms … Arch your back slightly..almost stomach up … Think about a string pulling from your belly button straight up. I sometimes find it easier if I havent done a certain stroke in a while to do a few laps of one stroke and then alternate with another. I find myself overanalyzing every pull and kick sometimes and think it helps to take a break with another stroke.

    There are some good youtube videos that break down stroke technique. Not as easy as having a coach but find the visual helpful. I think you find a bunch by googling “backstroke swim technique”.

    I didnt learn the breaststroke until college and took a long time to get the timing down. But once I did, It was awesome. Breaststroke is one I love just because you know right away by how far you glide as to whether or not it is “right”.

    Sorry so long. I have helped a lot of friends get back in the water as adults … Geek out about it. Please feel free to email if you feel stuck.

    • Caitlin December 31, 2011, 8:55 am

      This is so helpful. I appreciate it a LOT!

  • Jrm December 31, 2011, 3:34 am

    Sorry, just thought of one more thing. The flags/pennants in the pool photo you posted … help to tell you are close to the wall. Id say when you see those you have 2-3 more strokes before reaching the wall (you may know this already… Just fyi if not)

  • Rebecca @ Naturally Healthy and Gorgeous December 31, 2011, 7:46 am

    I like spinning in the morning when the instructors keep the lights off so it’s dark and no one can see how much I sweat!

  • Amber K December 31, 2011, 2:45 pm

    I definitely suffer from workout worry. I often stick to my regular cardio routine because I know what I’m doing. I started taking a TRX class so that I can get some guided strength training in. I’d love to hit the weights on other days, but I always feel like a complete moron when I try. Especially because everyone doing weights seems so hardcore about it.

  • Claire December 31, 2011, 3:10 pm

    I know exactly what you mean, but as someone who was a competitive swimmer for many years and also a coach of the pre team (kids under seven) I can honestly say that a) everyone runs into the laneropes periodically and b) no one will ever laugh at you!!! I was a competitive swimmer with many years of exregularly it backstroke was my weakest stroke and I regularly ran into the ropes. In addition to the tips you already mentioned you can also practice some “drills” to help your stroke and help you swim in a straight line. “six kick switch” is a good one – one arm by your side and one straight behind you like you’re frozen mid stroke, hold for six kicks and “switch” by completing the stroke and rolling to the other side. This helps practice rotating your body on the “long axis” for freestyle and backstroke. Focus on moving from your hips and keeping your body aligned from there, don’t “wiggle” from your waist (if that makes sense). Hope that helps!

    • Claire December 31, 2011, 3:12 pm

      Sorry that’s “many years of experience and backstroke was my weakest stroke”

  • Simply Life December 31, 2011, 4:43 pm

    oh that salad looks great!

  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats December 31, 2011, 7:25 pm

    I definitely look stupid half the time in the gym and have learned to just not care!

  • Julie January 3, 2012, 5:14 pm

    I actually used to be one of those competitive swimmers that trained at that exact pool that you swim in and trust me we were so engrossed in torture..I mean practice (hehe)that we didn’t really ever notice the lap swimmers! So no worries Caitlin:)

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